Six Months With The Apple TV

The Apple TV 4th generation has been out for a little over 6 months now and I figured it was time to write a follow up post on it. I pride myself in only having one device plugged into my TV and that is the 4th generation Apple TV, the box defiantly meets all of my needs.

For me I have three basic requirements for a set top box, must have Plex, Netflix, and Hulu, must have a good UI, and must be fast. I do think the Apple TV could be faster, but it's still faster then every other box I have tried. For the other requirements it meets them with flying colors.

I have been a cord cutter since 2009. I have never really cared for cable, I have always wanted to watch what I want, when I want, and not when some TV station decided to air something. I started off with what was XBMC at the time, but is now called KODI and ran that off of an old XP machine for many years. But what I didn't like about that was I had to change inputs every time I wanted to watch Netflix of Hulu. Many years later I switched to Plex which I plan on writing a post about later on down the road. To fast forward to now when Apple announced back in September of 2015 that the Apple TV would support third party app I got really excited because I knew at least one would support DLNA and if it didn't I would make it myself. A couple weeks after the announcement The co-founder of Plex said they would be on the Apple TV and I could not have been more excited. Finally a box that could do everything I wanted.

Software

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As I am writing this piece the current version of tvOS is 9.2 and with all of the software updates since launch have brought huge upgrades to the box. The OS itself is pretty stable, and I at least have had no problems since it launched. One of the biggest pieces of news when Apple announced the the new Apple TV last September they said that it would be shipping with its own OS, which is called tvOS. tvOS is just a forked version iOS that has been redressed for the new Apple TV.

When the Apple TV first launched it was missing some key features that the old Apple TV's had, like support of the iOS remote app and the ability to pair a Bluetooth keyboard to the device. With out the Apple TV supporting those at launch entering passwords was not easy. This was easily the item all reviewers agreed on was the worst part about the Apple TV. The good news is in subsequent updates Apple add back both of those functions and added the ability to speak your password using dictation on the Siri remote.

The UI has been received with mixed emotions across the Internet, but I think it looks beautiful. It has a very fluid, simple, but fast design. I love when you scrub through video you get a thumbnail of what's happening. Also when an item is selected in a menu it has this 3D look to it, and you can move it around in a 3D space, and see pieces of the artwork move, that is just a great Apple touch.

Siri is fast and responsive for me. I love the features that are built just for the TV, like asking "what did they say" and Siri will jump back 15 seconds and turn on captions for that time so you can make sure you got it correct. Siri search is amazing, it's everything I have ever wanted for TV search but didn't think I could have. The ability to say "Show me Arrow" and it shows you not only Arrow but also shows you where you can watch it from. Right now the search only supports a handful of apps like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, ect. but Apple has said they will be adding more services over time. They have added every one that I would like with the expectation of Plex but I can understand how that could be a technical limitation seeing that everyone's Plex servers are different and there is no database for Siri's servers to check against.

My one complaint is Apple didn't institute some kind of standard design language for video service apps. I know this is easier said then done but some of the apps (I'm looking at you Hulu) are just not very intuitive. I am going to pick on Hulu for a second, in order to get to you queue or favorites (the wording isn't even consistent across platforms) you have to go pass Korean dramas in the discover bar. I would think a lot more people are looking for the queue button then Korean Dramas and that button should be front and center. It's little touches like that can hurt the experience, but that is the trade off for having third party's make their own apps.

Hardware

The new Apple TV is fast, really fast, parsec's faster then the old one. equipped with the A8 chip this box is ready to play almost anything. Unlike the pervious models, I have yet to find the Apple TV show any signs of sluggishness. The box is fairly quick to turn on, but I would be happy to see that time shaved down on the next model. Apps launch quick, and typical iOS games seems to have enough power to run.

It supports 1080p video at 60 FPS. I heard a lot of complaints that it doesn't support 4K, but it doesn't surprise me that this is the case. Apple has never been an early adopter, they wait to see if something catches on before jumping on the train. In my opinion 4K is just a matter of time but the time is not now. Apple will have plenty of time to release a 4K box before that time.

Surprisingly the new box is almost twice the height of the old box. Apple usually goes for slimmer design for new products. I think this matters the less for this product. Mine sits behind my sound system and I haven't seen it since I put it in.

Siri Remote

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The Siri Remote is the one thing about the Apple TV I still love/hate. The Siri remote is the best looking remote I have ever seen. The problem with that is remote aren't meant to be seen, in fact they are usually used with out looking at them at all. The remote has a built mic for interacting with Siri, and a gyrosanceor for using it a motion controller for games.

With the remote being perfectly symmetrical it's hard to tell what side is which without looking at it. When your watching movies in the dark nothing is worse then guessing wrong, you could have fast forward and had the movie spoiled. Apple did fix this behavior in one of the software update, so now you have to click the remote in order to scrub. Honestly this is how it should have been from the beginning, but they did fix it. Unfortunately the shape of the remote can't change with a software update, I hope that in future updates the remote gets the some attention. I would love to see Apple go beyond what we think of normal as a remote and innovate in that area.

The Apple TV also supports CEC, while most people will complain CEC is not something to be excited about, I have never had an issue with mine. CEC is a problem for most because manufactures of TV's always want to tweak the standard in some way. With CEC in the Apple TV I have been able to reduce my fleet of remotes down to one. The Siri remote can control my volume for my sound system and power for my TV. Other then to go into the settings on my tv I have not needed my other remotes for anything.

Apps

This is the first Apple TV to support third party apps, and I am so glad it finally came. The App Store is a welcome addition to the platform. I don't use a lot of apps, I already talked about the big three Netflix, Hulu, Plex. I also use HBO, YouTube, Apple trailers, and when there is a Apple event I watch it on the events app.

I have played a couple of games but they don't stay on my device for long. Currently all I have is Super Mega Death Worm and Jet Pack Joyride, both of which are fun games and I recommend. This biggest problem with games is developers are only allowed to have a certain amount of data on the Apple TV at one time, so the app is constantly deleting old data and downloading new. This really hurts the gameplay experience of large games, when it takes me out of my game and tells me to wait that is usually when I just shut it off.

Wrap Up

All together it's a great box and out of all the set top boxes I have tried (Apple TV gen 1, 2, 3, Chromecast, Fire TV, even my own DIY) this is my favorite. This is the box that I have been waiting for, the box that does what I want (mostly). I am once again excited to see the Apple TV's future. The Apple TV is a set tops box I will keep using for a while, and if your needs are like mine then recommend you check it out.